How to move on from grief

In the midst of what is perhaps the most tumultuous time any of us have ever experienced in our lives, moving on from the grief associated with the passing of a loved one may seem almost impossible. While loss is an inevitable part of life, personal losses are now compounded by the collective grief that the world is experiencing due to the effect of the pandemic.

When it seems like everyone is constantly in a state of grieving, how does one move on from your own, and start living your life to the full again?

What is grief?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines grief as “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement (sadness because of the death of a loved one)”. Most people who have had to deal with the death of a loved one will have heard of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

It is important to note that not everyone who experiences grief over the passing of someone near to them will go through these exact stages, and that not everyone’s grief will follow this trajectory.

The author Vicki Harris describes grief as being “like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing”. “Sometimes the water is calm,” says Harris, “and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

Learning to swim

Looking at the stages of grief, acceptance is ultimately what any grieving person is working towards. For many people, learning to live without the person they have lost is something they explicitly do not want to do. For these people, accepting the fact that their loved one is no longer physically here feels like something that is disrespectful towards the person they have lost, and is not honouring their loved one’s memory.

A person who is stuck in their grief may feel persistently depressed about the loss they have experienced, not seeing a way out of the sadness that constantly overwhelms them.

If you feel like you are stuck in grief, these five tips may be of help to you:

  • Respect your loss: Paying respect to a loved one is an important part of accepting the loss. You can do this by creating a memorial space to serve as a reminder of your loved one, or by journaling or writing them a letter.
  • Prioritise your self-care: After spending so much time making the care of your loved one a priority, it can be exceptionally difficult to shift the focus to self-care. This is very important, though, not just for your physical health, but also for your mental wellbeing. Practice good self-care by eating well, staying active (even a short walk makes a huge difference) and steering clear of addictive substances that numb your feelings.
  • Be kind to yourself: This is not the time to ruminate on what you could have done differently while your loved one was ill. Of course, hindsight will bring its own lessons, but there is no point in beating yourself up about things you did or didn’t do.
  • Reach out: Even if it might feel like you are having a singular experience that no one will truly understand, grief is central to the human experience, and everyone will have to deal with it at some stage. Speak to someone you can trust about the emotions you are experiencing, and reach out to a mental health professional if you find yourself consumed by grief and unable to move forward.

COVID-19 has had a profound effect on the way we deal with loss. If someone passes away in hospital, chances are that their loved ones won’t be able to say goodbye to them like they’d normally be able to. The rituals associated with loss, like memorial services and funerals, have also been significantly affected by the pandemic.

This means that we will all have to learn to create our own customs to deal with our loss. Remember, even if it may feel so, you are never alone.

The loss of someone close to us is something that deeply affects us. Learning to swim without them by our side is difficult, but not impossible – especially when we realise that there are plenty of other people who also have to navigate these stormy waters.

If you need to speak to someone about your grief, feel free to contact the South African Depresson and Anxiety Group (SADAG) by calling 0800 12 13 14.